Friday, June 24, 2011

Answers and Uncertainty

Is it the plight of mankind to be slaves to the desire for certainty? What else can explain why we so quickly and willingly attach ourselves to those leaders who dare to tell us what is truth, what we should believe, what kind of government we should have, and what we need to do to solve our problems? We love authority figures--especially those with charisma. A would-be leader who comes across as an attractive authority can convince us of almost anything they wish. We want to accept their answers without question-- and we do. We are more comfortable having somebody else to figure out the hard answers for us; or maybe we just don’t trust our own judgment, but we can’t seem to bear being uncertain.

There are psychological explanations for this human trait, but this writing will not get into these. Instead it raises questions: Is this trait a good thing? Does it usually result in making life better? worse? Isn’t it risky?

The uncertaintity about who we are, how we got here and where we are going compels us to seek answers. Since the answers to such questions are not readily apparent, we are attracted to those who claim to have had a “revelation” or “inspiration” coming from some place outside of themselves. The problem is: how do we verify someone’s revelatory experience? And, if it is not verifiable, then how do we determine whether they are telling the truth or merely relating a dream or fantasy? And, if we are unable to determine such, then how can we trust anything they say? And what are we risking if we do decide to trust them? Will we follow their lead as long as they take us where we really wanted to go anyway? How reliable is that? How do we avoid another Jim Jones, or David Koresh, or Heaven’ Gate, or Adolph Hitler, or Karl Marx calamity?

If we don’t want to take this kind of risk, what are our alternatives? For myself, I choose to be skeptical about all claims to knowledge or truth which can not be verified by scientific means and which do not meet the test of reason. This is enough for me.

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